Out of work? Stuck on benefits? Not any more, thanks to Channel 4’s Fairy Job Mother. This latest contribution to the new TV genre of ‘’austerity chic’’ aims to get people off the dole and into a job. With the help of a spot of life-coaching and a new haircut. Yes, that’s what you need to beat unemployment in the world of Con-Dem cuts.
This is, more or less, Supernanny for grown-ups, and sees loud Yorkshirewoman Hayley Taylor (previously on that other Channel 4 recession’s-topical-isn’t-it series Benefit Busters) descend on a different household each week, for a three-week period. She even stays overnight with them, but just the one night, you understand, because that’s clearly all she can take before checking into the local Hilton where she can get some underpaid chambermaid to iron her signature scarves.
Taylor previously worked for one of those private firms that’s paid a large amount of public money to run the New Deal. And the style of the programme is very much the style of the New Deal — to bully unemployed people into a crap minimum-wage job on the basis that any work is better than none. Like any good reality TV show emotions run high, there are tears before bedtime and it ends on a heartwarming note. Its main purpose, clearly, is to comfort viewers of Channel 4 that it’s not that hard to get a job if only you try.
Cynics might think that the fact the candidates were accompanied by a camera crew, thus offering to their potential employers tens of thousands of pounds worth of free advertising on national telly, helped two of the participants get jobs.
If that wasn’t all bad enough, the gender politics on display here are fit to shock. Hayley tells the women she’s coaching that they’re beautiful. A random good-looking woman in a coffee shop is found to be self-employed. Employment makes you attractive, you see and if you run your own business you’ll have guys falling over themselves to meet you. The men, on the other hand, are sent down the boxing gym to work out their frustrations, brain injury being, apparently, a fantastic aspiration for working-class blokes. When in episode one Dean found work as a kitchen fitter this meant he could now ‘’provide for his family’’.
If you can manage to look past the hideous politics, The Fairy Job Mother has some worthwhile insights about life without work. That it’s impossible to take agency work, for example, because once you sign off it takes six weeks to sign on again, and in order to survive you have to turn to the local ‘’loan man’’ as the programme politely put it (the term’s loan shark, Hayley, when the interest rate’s 60%). And if you think, hard, about the couple in episode one, it might occur to you that had it not been for her mother’s offer of free childcare, even getting work experience would have been impossible for Maxine. Not that the programme mentioned that.
The Fairy Job Mother does, in a small way, what grammar schools used to do for working-class children – give a few of them special treatment so they can get out. If Hayley Taylor could magically visit every unemployed person in the country and offer her special brand of motivation, would there be any more jobs? No. Why does this programme exist? To make us feel that it’s only the undeserving poor who’ll get hit by benefit cuts. The clue’s in the title. This isn’t a solution. It’s a fairy tale.